‘Talk amongst yourselves’: Designing and evaluating a novel remotely-moderated focus groups methodology for exploring group talk

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The use of a moderator has become ubiquitous when using focus groups for social science research. While a skilled moderator can facilitate discussion, we argue that moderators can potentially also hinder the generation of the types of group discussions that academic researchers seek to access. We suggest a need for critical reflection on the role, importance and influence of focus group moderators. In this paper we outline some of the challenges associated with moderated focus groups and propose an alternative: a remotely-moderated focus group methodology that can help overcome some of the problems associated with a physically present moderator, while still incorporating many of the benefits of moderation. Using two remotely-moderated focus group designs – one exploring dietary identity and the other exploring sexual harassment – we provide evidence for the efficacy of this design in multiple contexts and evaluate its ability to produce high quality conversational data without the disadvantages a moderator may introduce.

Ryan Watkins